Jeremy Butterfield

Making words work for you

Damp Squid: exploring current English

Damp Squid reveals how English has always changed, but is now changing faster than ever, and how the Worldwide Web makes it possible to view these changes almost literally as they happen.

damp_squid

Mining the gigantic database of English owned by Oxford University Press, I have used it to discuss topics such as:

  • How many words are there in English?
  • Where do they come from?
  • Why does one little sound cause so many spelling mistakes?
  • Which usages really annoy people, and why?

Alexander McCall Smith of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street, etc., fame, said some very kind words about it:

“Thanks to this delightful book, I now understand … about the behaviour of our language. A fascinating book.”

[You can read a sample chapter here: chapter-8-damp-squid; remember to use the back arrow to get back to this page!]

Other reviews include:

  • a breezy and engaging look at lots of things we never thought about when it comes to how we speak and why.
    The Bookbag
  • I have read more than a dozen books about the English language by authors such a David Crystal and Henry Hitchings but this book adds even more information–Amazon review, (Born Again Cruciverbalist)
  • This was a delightful little book…it had just enough of some serious linguistics to give a taste of the inner workings of that science, but not enough to bore…a fun read for anyone who enjoys language and linguistics–Goodreads, (Rob Welch)

Surely the title is a mistake?

Much of what we learned in those English lessons at school no longer applies. Damp Squid explains how these changes are happening, with entertaining examples.

fireworks2
For instance, if an event is disappointing, people, especially in British English, used to call it a “damp squib“—a squib being a type of firework. So the image was of a firework that failed to go off. But as “squib” has fallen out of use, people have replaced it with “squid“. Damp-SquibThe image in that case is of something soggy, floppy and not very appealing–in other words, a disappointment. Changes of this kind that people make to standard phrases are called “eggcorns“.

damp-squid-copy

In Damp Squid I’ve used examples of evolving language to show that English has always changed. Before the Worldwide Web these changes were gradual. Now, we can literally see them happening before our eyes.

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